I originally wrote this for a new Adventist theology blog: Round Table Theology
Writing about the Trinity is not an easy subject. Actually, it’s one of the most controversial topics you could ever write about. Since the first century AD, most of the splits, heresies, and disputes within the church had to do in some way with the Trinity.
This is especially true as it concerns Christology (the field of study dealing with the nature and person of Jesus in relation to the other members of the Trinity: God the Father and the Holy Spirit).
I’m not going to try to solve over 2000 years of church disputes in fewer than 2000 words.
What I am going to do is to share with you three reasons why I believe power doesn’t matter in the Trinity (but why it matters to us today):
1. God is Love
Yes, I know it’s a cliche. One of the verses in Scripture that best reveals the fundamental nature of God is found in 1 John 4:8:
The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. – NASV
Sure, you hear “God is love” all the time but, what does that actually mean? One place to start is here: How do we express and experience love as people? In the English language, we sadly have only one word for love. So we can say we love pizza, and also love our spouse! We love both, but not in the same way (one hopes).
Tim Keller, in his fantastic book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, takes this basic concept of love and draws out an important point:
“If God were impersonal, as Eastern religions teach, then love- something that can happen only between two or more persons- would be an illusion. We can go further and say that even if God were only unipersonal, then love would not have appeared until after God began to create human beings. That would mean God was more fundamentally power than he was love. Love would not be as important as power.” [p. 50-Emphasis added]
If before Creation God was a single being, alone in the universe with nothing else to love (yet Himself was still defined as love), who would He love if not Himself? Logically, he would have needed to create other beings in order to experience the kind of love that we understand today (again, defined as something that can happen only between two or more persons).
All of this in reality would be misplaced narcissism.
“Love” in this case would be a means to an end, for others to love him back as much as he loves himself. In this world, these memes are truer than they realize:
The Christian doctrine of the Trinity, however, teaches that there is one God in three persons who have known and loved one another before the dawn of time. It means that God has always had within himself a perfect, equal, and satisfying relationship. As Keller writes:
“God is, therefore, infinitely, profoundly happy filled with perfect joy— not some abstract tranquility but the fierce happiness of dynamic loving relationships.” [p. 67]
This leads me to my second point:
2. Because God is Love, He is primarily other-focused.
Keller, this time citing Jonathan Edwards, a very famous pastor and theologian, shared this nugget:
Edwards argued in a Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World, that the only reason God would have had for creating us was not to get the cosmic love of joy and relationship (because he already had that) but to share it. Edwards shows how it is completely consistent for a triune God- who is “other– oriented” in his very core, who seeks glory only to give it to others– to communicate happiness and delight in his own divine perfections and beauty in others. 
In this world, love is the primary driving agent and power is the means to share love with others. All members in the Godhead work together with the goal of love in mind.
Some people argue that the Trinity has an intrinsic hierarchy within itself with the Son eternally subordinated to the Father and the Holy Spirit eternally subordinated to them both.
However, even the discussion of who is “top dog” within the Trinity creates two problems:
A. It undermines the very principle of self-sacrificial love. I have never seen a healthy relationship among friends or romantic partners where someone has to pull rank in order for there to be a final agreement. In contrast, the New Testament command is for both husbands and wives to submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21). It is important here not to confuse role with position. The idea that the members of the Godhead are equal does not do away with the function or role of each member; it does however, mean that they work as equals.
B. Practice comes from belief. Consider the fact that after the early church decided who within the Trinity had the most power, it would be a few short centuries before the church started asking who in the church had the most power… and that eventually led to the Papacy.
Again, the mutually self-sacrificial nature inherent in a loving, healthy relationship seems strangely out of place in a discussion of which members of the Godhead are “eternally subordinated” to the others.
Discussions of hierarchy in the Trinity are working from a paradigm of power rather than love.
Because self-sacrificial love is the basis of God’s law and character as opposed to power, this is why free will (and, by extension, evil) can exist. If God is our Creator and loves us, free will must necessarily be given to creation in order to allow for the freedom to reciprocate or reject that love.
You can’t force someone to love you. If you say you love them and use any kind of force, that’s closer to rape, not love.
It would also be unfair to punish someone eternally for an individual’s rejection of that love, but that’s another point altogether.
Really though, this idea of love should transform our view of the world, outreach, evangelism, and mission.
Christians, called to reflect God’s character in this world, are not called to serve others with the ulterior motive of receiving something from them in return (money, conversion, baptism, etc.). We are called to love others simply because of love’s sake. Period.
3. Distorted views of God happen when we minimize or overemphasize the authority God intrinsically possesses.
There are two ditches that people can find themselves in when looking at God’s balance of power and love. There is no doubt that the Bible speaks over and over again about the power that God possesses within himself. Actually, most of the last half of the book of Job is God reminding everyone that he does have unimaginable power and experience.
However, when we overemphasize power over love or vice-versa, we open the door to either a view of God that sees him as a totalitarian, legalistic dictator or nothing more than a senile grandfather figure who has general goodwill upon everybody.
While it would seem as though the Bible sometime paints a picture of God as fierce deity in some ares and a doting parent in others, when people insist on sticking to one picture, it starts to mess with the true picture of God’s character. Consider what Keller says about this as it relates to prayer:
Left to ourselves, our hearts will tend to create a god who doesn’t exist. People from Western cultures want a God who is loving and forgiving but not holy and transcendent. Studies of the spiritual lives of young adults in Western countries reveal that their prayers, therefore, are generally devoid of both repentance and the joy of being forgiven. Without prayer that answers to the God of the Bible, we may be responding not to the real God, but to what we wish God and life to be like. [p. 62]
Eugene Peterson said it like this in his book Answering God:
Left to ourselves, we will pray to some god who speaks what we like hearing, or to the part of God we manage to understand. But what is critical is that we speak to the God who speaks to us…there is a difference between praying to an unknown God whom we hope to discover in our praying, and praying to a known God, reveled through Israel and Jesus Christ, who speaks our language. In the first, we indulge our appetite for religious fulfillment; in the second we practice obedient faith. The first is a lot more fun, the second is a lot more important. [p. 5-6]
All this aside, at the end of the day, information about who God is is just not enough. Just like it is true that our biological fathers may not always be father figures in our lives, having the knowledge that God is love and that he loves us is a moot point if that’s not relevant to our actual relationship with him.
In the Trinity, power is not the ultimate currency… love is, and God wants us to experience that love today.